February 02, 2021 | Knowledge management and ecommerce
were never total strangers. What is new is that you are beginning
to see this couple nearly everywhere, sometimes in the unlikeliest
products. Consider the former MetaCreations-Fractal Design "Painter"
product. This product's key strength is its uncanny ability to
simulate natural art media: papers, paints, brush strokes, and
the like. Then about a year ago Painter users received a message
that MetaCreations was selling all the art product lines to Corel
Corporation. MetaCreations did this so it could concentrate on
repurposing its own 3D graphics technology and merge with its
former subsidiary Viewpoint Corporation, known previously as "Metastream."
Why? Apart from wanting to emphasize its entirely new direction,
Viewpoint wanted to focus on "licensing its proprietary Viewpoint
technologies for ecommerce initiatives and provide a full range
of professional services for implementing enhanced 3D Web marketing
solutions for e-merchants." Since pictures convey knowledge (often
more richly than text, as in Web-delivered catalogs), this move
combined KM and ecommerce at dizzying speed for ViewPoint.
When couples (odd or otherwise) tie the knot, there is frequently
a name change. Now consider another name change: eHelp Corporation,
formerly known as "Blue Sky Software." Best known for its RoboHelp
Office development system, eHelp has been incrementally improving
its product from developing proprietary Windows Help systems to
a variety of Web and platform-independent options, including WebHelp.
This product suite has matured into a true if constrained knowledge
management suite, complete with single-source content to multiple
platform deliveries, embedded search, and version management.
eHelp sources even tell us that some customers have been able
to import external XML documents into RoboHelp--an important step
for scaling KM to the enterprise. The process, according to eHelp's
product evangelist Michael Hamilton, requires expert knowledge
of the DocBook DTD and XSLT--an XML style sheet transformation
language unfamiliar to mainstream RoboHelp developers; using XSLT
really amounts to customized application development. Still, as
RoboHelp developers become more XML-aware and if Office itself
begins supporting XML imports perhaps by bundling other XML tools,
eHelp will have taken another significant step towards expanding
Office's Knowledge Management capabilities.
In April 2000, eHelp made a quantum leap beyond Office, although
unlike Viewpoint eHelp remains committed to its flagship product.
Building on its experience with Help systems, eHelp morphed into
a company which might eventually be better known for new Web-based
products than for RoboHelp Office. First, eHelp proposed a new
XML specification to boost Web ecommerce: ALURe (Aggregation and
Logging of User Requests). ALURe is designed to allow any
Web-based "user assistance" product or system log information
on specific customer problems at Web sites. Using ALURe, Web applications
could track and report usage patterns in Help and customer assistance
systems on Web sites. eHelp then sponsored alurexml.org to promote
ALURe's acceptance; Informix (among others) signed on as partners.
Shortly after this, eHelp announced two high-end Web products:
DynaHelp and WebHelp Live.
Currently DynaHelp and WebHelp Live are unrelated to the Office
products although the similarity between "WebHelp Live" and "WebHelp"
on the Office side can't be coincidence and they share a common
theme: delivering help and customer assistance. Both aim to deal
with an ever-increasing problem of Web complexity and its impact
on ecommerce. This notion of providing Web-delivered customer
assistance is a winner: Gartner estimates the average cost of
a call to a Help desk to be nearly $30, while delivering the same
information via an online facility can cost 1/4 of that. With
up to two out of three ecommerce customers abandoning their shopping
carts before completing their purchases, Web assistance products
that increase consumer satisfaction and reduce cart abandonment
make a lot of sense.
WebHelp Live, which shipped in November 1999, provides live
chat interaction between customers and support people. To increase
support staff productivity, WebHelp Live allows one support person
to provide concurrent help to several customers, unlike telephone
support, which is always one-on-one. Also, by managing these sessions
online, support representatives can send URLs, files, and messages
to customers immediately. Since many customers still get to the
Web via a single dial-up line, WebHelp Live provides an immediacy
that should increase their satisfaction with the support experience.
DynaHelp includes WebHelp Live, but expands the Web assistance
paradigm to include self-assistance. Version 1.5 shipped in December
1999, and its features start with existing Office technology but
then go far beyond it: Natural language interface, real-time analysis
of customer behavior via ALURe, support for database-driven sites,
and iPredict technology anticipating customer needs based on prior
requests for information. DynaHelp not only claims to enhance
the consumer's experience by providing improved answers to queries,
it continuously analyzes requests for information site-wide to
identify trouble spots, and improves its answers. It is as though
DynaHelp were continuously updating a FAQ list.
Phase one of the dot-com party ended about a year ago. That's
not news. The survivors are now aggressively pursuing new fortunes.
Applying knowledge management to enhance ecommerce is emerging
as a key survival strategy. If you don't want to build KM products
yourself, then you owe your ecommerce efforts to monitor new KM
offerings. But don't overlook the opportunity to view your existing
products in a new KM light.